Friday, August 22, 2008

Alex Salmond & Margaret Thatcher: The Truth

I hadn't quite realised what a stink my interview with Alex Salmond had caused in Scotland until I heard that the First Minister himself had called a phone in on BBC Radio Scotland to clarify his remarks. You can listen to it HERE. In the interview with me he said...
ID: Ten years ago, the Conservatives were seen as a terrible enemy by the SNP, and they saw you as very left-wing. It seems to me that you have tried to change that, and create a big tent for the SNP.
AS: I suppose I have tried to bring the SNP into the mainstream of Scotland. We have a very competitive economic agenda. Many business people have warmed towards the SNP. We need a competitive edge, a competitive advantage - get on with it, get things done, speed up decision making, reduce bureaucracy. The SNP has a strong social conscience, which is very Scottish in itself. One of the reasons Scotland didn't take to Lady Thatcher was because of that. We didn't mind the economic side so much. But we didn't like the social side at all.
ID: Doesn't that illustrate the problem, that Scotland is seen as having quite a big public sector and, as the country of Adam Smith, it is no longer seen as the country of enterprise?
AS: I think that betrays Adam Smith. He was not just a friend of economics. He was a moral philosopher. Margaret Thatcher could have only ever read the Penguin edition of Wealth of Nations and she missed out the moral sentiments. I would absolutely defend the reputation of Adam Smith against the Adam Smith Institute. I said to Eamonn Butler [Deputy Director of the ASI], if Adam Smith could sue, you'd be in real trouble.

Labour has seized on the highlighted passage and called on Alex Salmond to apologise. It is astonishing that even eighteen years after she left office Margaret Thatcher still dominates much of our political discourse. Quite how Labour has managed to spin Salmond's remarks about Thatcher in the way that it has is quite astonishing - but the Scottish media has such a Labour bias it makes English newspapers look positively balanced by comparison. Every single Scottish media outlet is biased against the SNP. A point I made in an unpublished part of the interview...
ID It must be a relief to have got through the first year with a reputation for competence.
AS It was a desirable objective. As you probably have noticed, I am not short of confidence, so relief is the wrong phrase, but I was determined that that should be done. So much so that I banned their holidays last Summer and said look, you’re Cabinet Ministers, make your mark. And they did.
ID My point is that the Scottish media is against the SNP and apart from the Labour Party most other people in politics have said quite nice things about you.
AS If you get complimented by your critics then that is better than just being complimented by your friends.

Anyone who seriously thinks that Alex Salmond has turned into an admirer of Margaret Thatcher must want their heads read. As he has been quick to point out, it was Gordon Brown who invited her to Number Ten, so it’s a bit rich for Labour to make hay with his remarks!

When one does an In Conversation interview like this, it has to be edited. The original transcript ran to 6,500 words, whereas the version which appeared in the magazine was less than half that. I have just gone back and checked against the original transcript of the conversation and was relieved to find it is an entirely accurate report of what Alex said. Here, just for the record is the unedited version...

ID I perceive that the SNP has changed a lot in the last ten years. The Conservatives were seen as a terrible enemy by you and the SNP was seen to be a very left wing party by the Conservatives. It seems to me that you have copied Bill Clinton – I’ll be careful where I go with this analogy – and tried to create a big tent for the SNP, so you can attract ex Conservative voters who had previously felt put off by some of the more left wing ideas of the SNP.
AS I suppose I have tried to bring the SNP into the mainstream of Scotland. We have a very competitive economic agenda. Many businesspeople have warmed towards the SNP. We need a competitive edge, a competitive advantage. That side of SNP politics – get on with it, get things done, speed up decision making, reduce bureaucracy. The SNP has a strong, beating social conscience, which is very Scottish in itself. One of the reasons Scotland didn’t take to Lady Thatcher was because of that. It didn’t mind the economic side so much. But we didn’t like the social side at all. One of the most famous phrases in Scottish history is the ‘Community of the realm’ – I used it earlier. This idea that there is a community of interest stretching across the population. It’s a very Scottish concept and Scotland doesn’t like people who regale against it.
ID Doesn’t that illustrate the problem that Scotland is seen as having quite a big public sector, a bit too much of the Nanny State, and as the country of Adam Smith it is no longer seen as the country of enterprise. Or am I betraying English prejudices by even daring to suggest such a thing?
AS I think you are betraying Adam Smith. He was not just a friend of economics. He was a moral philosopher. Margaret Thatcher had only ever read the Penguin edition of Wealth of Nations and she missed out the moral sentiments. I would absolutely defend the reputation of Adam Smith against the Adam Smith Institute.
ID You’re a better man than I am.
AS I said to Eamonn Butler [Deputy Director of the ASI], if Adam Smith could sue, you’d be in real trouble.

You can read the whole interview HERE.

29 comments:

andrew said...

Who's doing your PR - Katie Perior? Whoever it is has right royally managed to catapoult the story into the clegg GQ realms today. As a Labour councillor in the Borders - inadvertantly or not, well done Iain / Katie!!

Iain Dale said...

Andrew, We do work with Katie but not on the PR for each issue.

Olly Kendall from Insight PR handles our PR. He's done a great job on this issue, it has to be said, although this particular story seems to have taken on a momentum of its own, rather to my surprise. It must be a very quiet news day in Scotland is all I can say!

Anonymous said...

"Every single Scottish media outlet is biased against the SNP"

Not every single outlet and not just the SNP.

Its amazing to think two leadership contests are going on at the moment and only one of them seems to make the Daily record every day... or at least the free copy that I got pushed at me at the train station in Glasgow.

As for the Conservatives... this parlimentary break means Robert Brownlee and Goldie just vanish from the media.

Anonymous said...

Iain, you are so right about the bias of the Scottish media. Even the Telegraph though not pro-Labour is very often anti-Conservative.

I think the Scottish media's Labour bias, especially BBC Scotland, is one of the key contributing factors to the failure of any centre-right opinion to gain ground in Scotland. Believe it or not Scots aren't all that different to other folk but no centre-right party has managed to gain any significant ground.

andrew said...

I think you're right about a quiet news day. it's still running on the evening news on radio four in scotland Iain.
P.S. i thought ollie was a she? (and a lib dem?!) Isn't she the head of media for the party or are the lib dems about to announce a union with the Nats!? or are you not telling us something? :)

Iain Dale said...

Olly is very much a he. You are confusing him with Ollie Grender.

Anonymous said...

Alex Salmnond shows what a politician with charisma can get away wit. The SNP were only ever a one issue party and the issue wa trash.

But teamless GB has only helped them. We must get a PM that the UK can believe in.

I met him once. Many years ago. I spent an hour in his company. I fancied the woman who signed me up to the meeting. OK. Now you know. Now you know all about me. I didn't get her. I don't get him. I don't want him either. And I got a much prettier woman. Just so you can't easily accuse me of jealousy.

Jeff said...

My admiration for Alex Salmond knows no bounds, and your candid interview seems to have brought the best out of them.

You've sold one copy north of the border at least. Maybe even an annual subscription.

That's saying something for us 'short arms long pockets' Scots.

Good job!

john miller said...

4 legs bad 2 legs good

But at the end 2 legs good

so it is with Thatcher + Brown = good

Thatcher + Slamond = bad

Animal Farm

makes a change from 1984

Anonymous said...

Margaret Thatcher still dominates the political debate because the bulk of one of two major British parties is dominated by her blind worshippers (although if the obsessives had their way that party would be a debating society where the argument would be who could slaver and drool the most over the Blessed Lady).

You could do worse than listen to Alex Salmond when he talks about Thatcher missing completely the moral sentiment of Adam Smith. Until that is "got" you won't be fit to form Government.

Anonymous said...

Iain, you express surprise that the anti-SNP media can twist an interview like this (we in Scotland are used to it).

So here's a challenge for you . Write to the editors of each of the most prominent rags (plus BBC Scotland) and say what you've said on your blog. I would be surprised if they published your letter, but if they do ,think of the publicity for you! And the admission of the power of the blogosphere.

ChrisD said...

"although this particular story seems to have taken on a momentum of its own, rather to my surprise. It must be a very quiet news day in Scotland is all I can say!"

Iain, come on, you can't be surprised at the reaction of the media to this interview?
And anyway, its great publicity for the magazine, so enjoy.
Like the new front page layout. The Mavericks headline is a winner, works well because of the choice of interviews with Salmond and Boris.
Alex Salmond's own words in that interview is what is causing the heat, he has been hung by his own petard or tartan petticoats this time.
He is a very canny politician, and I don't expect him to make this mistake again soon unless he becomes too over confident again.

The SNP used to take a real kicking in the Scottish media, but then so did the Tories for many years.
But, to be fair, the political mood of the media has changed and there is genuine and grudging respect for Salmond and the SNP now on a daily basis.
Also something similar is happening for Goldie, Cameron and our party North and South of the border up here.
It has always amazed me how out of step some in my own party are with the reality of politics on the ground in Scotland.
Just as the Scots fall out of love with Labour for the first time in years, spurning them at our elections with all the zeal of a jilted lover. You and others in our party then ratchet up the anti Scots theme because you have labelled the country a socialist den beyond redemption which needs to be cut lose.
The irony is that the Scots have already kicked Labour out of power, its the rest of the UK that has yet to do so. And in a GE, it won't be the Nats that are seen as the vehicle to do it.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I still favour the idea that you and Salmond are a double act.

On the main Scottish news tonight the Labour unknown trio were presented with THAT picture of Gordon Broon ushering Thatcher into Downing Street.

Meanwhile the bold Alex gets to pretty reasonably explain his remarks in a way that no-body sensible could take any issue with.

Thus despite the clear bias of the Scottish written media Salmond comes up smelling of roses and the Brown/ Thatcher picture gets airtime before a vital by election.

If you are not working with him then you are working for him!

tapestry said...

Salmond wasn't referring to Adam Smith's moral sentiments, but Adam Smith's 'Moral Sentiments' - a separate publication to the Wealth Of Nations.

What is odd to my mind is that the modern world still accepts the Adam Smith version of enterprise - viz. that business is based on the self-serving nature of business people trying to make money. The hand of God intervenes and converts that selfishness to good social effects.

In Smith's time, only God was good, and it was sacreligious to ascribe good motivation to man - in this case business people.

The exclusively negative view of business people as self-serving survives to this day, in the British cultural tradition.

It makes it easier for people to feel that the rich are some kind of scum who need punishing for stealing all the money. Or for government to place intolerable regulatory burdens on businesses.

Business needs a more positive moral basis for the modern age.

The Chinese are going to wipe the floor with us, as their business philosophy is that money-making is morally good. We are fighting with two hands tied behind our backs, crippled with Smith's primitive economic ideas.

Chris said...

Right about 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments' being what Eck the Fish was referring to, tapestry; wrong about 'the invisible hand' being the hand of God. It's just a metaphorical hand.

tapestry said...

The invisible hand was always taken as the hand of God, Chris. Who else's?

The point is that business people are not credited with any good or intelligent motivation. Yet building organisations and enterprises has to have a morally good dimension.

Business is morally ambiguous like the rest of life, with good and bad all mixed up together. It is not exclusively bad and inherently selfish, and it doesn't need an 'invisible' hand to put the good parts into it.

It's time for a holistic view of business to be taken, not a morally dismembered one.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Just read the article in full. The gently approach seems to work very well but I would have liked a few follow up questions. Several times he gave you an opportunity, especially AS said:

"Many business people have warmed towards the SNP. We need a competitive edge, a competitive advantage - get on with it, get things done, speed up decision making, reduce bureaucracy.."

Just the point when you should have mentioned Donald Trump, a big issue up here. He gave it to you really, was begging you to bring it up.

The best thing about the interview is how fantastically funny he is and how actually clever he is also. So ok, AS has the ego, but what politician of his stature is a shrinking violet?

A good interview but a seasoned hack would have squeezed him a bit by the short and curlys.

7/10 see me.

Iain Dale said...

Wrinkled Weasel, I did actually ask him about the Donald Trump thing at exactly the point you said I should. I didn't include it in the interview because he couldn't say much. But seeing as you asked, here is the transcript...

ID What can you do as a government to ram home the message that Scotland wants the world’s business? We only ever see in London, mainly because the London media rarely reports anything about Scotland unless it’s bad, things like the Donald Trump incident where it seems he wants to take his bat and ball home because he can’t get planning permission for a £2 billion golf project.
AS He hasn’t quite taken his bat and ball home but I can’t conflicted from commenting on it because it’s in my constituency and I am “cup-tied”. I can’t prejudice the results of the public inquiry. But on the broader point I don’t think Scotland has an international projection problem welcoming business. We’ve had a very good reception in the US. Against a very difficult investor climate we have done spectacularly well in key sectors. That will be exemplified even more in our Year of Homecoming, and we expect you to take part in this, Iain. This is for first, second, third, fourth, fifth generation Scots.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Go to the top of the class!!

The inquiry he talks about has taken place, but has yet to report as far as I know. There has been a lot of mischief making by Lib Dems (three Lib Dems to be precise) who are bent on wrecking the Trump deal, in spite of overwhelming local support and the support of Scottish Business leaders.

In the light of the pasting he got for "oiling the bureaucratic wheels" on this one, it's no surprise that he is steering well clear until the report is out. Of course, the longer these self important and spiteful nonentities (Lib Dems) try to derail it, the more people will see the development in a favourable light.

It seems to me the more he operates like this, the more he seems like a neo-Thatcherite.(ho ho)

Anonymous said...

tapestry said...

"Business ... is not exclusively bad and inherently selfish"

Yes it is.

Will said...

Whilst I broadly agree with your sentiments about the Scottish media, it is perhaps worth mentioning that the Herald seems to present a more balanced view than most papers up here, and the Sunday Herald seems to be very pro-SNP. It'll be interesting to see what they say about Glenrothes tomorrow...

Mick said...

"it is perhaps worth mentioning that the Herald seems to present a more balanced view than most papers up here, and the Sunday Herald seems to be very pro-SNP"

The Herald is still fairly biased in some respects - they write their articles in an reasonably balanced manner, but their bias can often be seen in the stories that you choose to run / not run...

Malc said...

Have to say Iain, I agree with most of what you've said. It was obvious from what the First Minister said what he meant - but the Labour media has twisted it all over the place up here. Thatcher is still much hated (despite most of those making comments not actually being old enough to remember much of her premiership!

Still, as you point out, the SNP have survived (so far) the anti-SNP and anti-independence press. It probably did surprise you to find out how much of a stink that interview made up here - or maybe you knew as soon as Salmond mentioned Thatcher you were on a roll. Either way, all it does is emphasise that, however much Labour hated her policies, they didn't do much to reverse them since 1997.

Just a thought.

Eamonn Butler said...

Hmmm. I don't recall Alex telling me that if Adam Smith could sue, we in the Adam Smith Institute would be in trouble. I'll have to send him a copy of my Adam Smith Primer, which stresses Smith's essential humanity and decency. He believed in - free - markets for the same reason as we do, that they are the best way of lifting the poorest people out of poverty. A lot of people think Smith can't be pro-market because he was a nice guy, and they think markets are all about greed. That's tripe.

David Lindsay said...

Ah, the Tartan Tories!David Cameron's majority-in-waiting at Westminster, and dependent on the Tories at Holyrood.

Of course.

The fantasy of the SNP as a left-leaning party has always been exactly that - a fantasy. Left-wing people exist in it, but they certainly do not predominate. The only question is how Cameron will put up with their small town social conservatism (and I write as a small town social conservative) from the environs of Aberdeen.

But goodbye to "English votes for English laws". And goodbye to what little enthusiasm for independence, or even for further devolution, those at the top of the SNP might ever have had. Endless pork-barrelling from Westminster will do nicely, thank you very much.

No wonder that Cameron is indulging those who want to abolish the Oath of Allegiance. Alex Salmond the Privy Councillor and future Knight of the Thistle might have no problem with it. But just who gets to be the SNP's candidate in its twenty-fifth most winnable seat? Some half-Jacobite, half-Trot who would never be allowed anywhere near somewhere ordinarily likely to be won. Cameron looks like depending, when the votes are tight, on MPs who will not swear allegiance to the Queen.

And can somebody please do something about the delusion that Scotland is somehow the heart and soul of the Labour Movement? Labour has never won more than two thirds of the seats there, and never won an overall majority of the total vote there. As recently as 1992, it was the only part of the country to deliver a net gain in Tory seats. The Tories would be doing well in several parts of Scotland now.

But the Tartan Tories are doing well in those parts, instead.

Anonymous said...

We read today that Carol Thatcher reckons that her mother is now gaga.

morris home said...

Ian

you really must do a follow up interview with Alex Salmond.It has set the Scots Blogosphere alight please give us some more asap.

and as for bias he said it nobody else.A bit hard to blame someone for using your words against you

Allan said...

Just to point out that Thatch is still very much despised here in Scotland, there are a lot of things which she did which were not popular. Since her ecconomic policies were the main plank of her premiership, then we most certainly didn't "not mind" her ecconomic policies.

It is strange that Salmond should make such an own goal, especialy when Thatch wasted so much of the oil revenues, which Salmond was complaining that we didn't see very much of not so long ago.

Oh, and Wrinkled Weasle, there are reasons why there is such a stink about "Trumptown", there are planning and enviromental regulations which this proposal breaks. Not everyone if for this proposal (in its current state).

Anonymous said...

Iain, I've just listened to the interview link you posted and my immediate thought was get that Graham guy! His loathing of Salmond was pretty apparent from the start.

The Scottish media really are something else.